AEW&C to MMA TO EP-X - closing the gap

With the P-8A Poseidon, Boeing intends to avoid the problems that struck its 737 airborne early warning and control programme. At the same time, the company plans to feed improvements from the P-8 back into the AEW&C and create a platform for future military derivatives of the commercial 737, including a possible EP-X signals-intelligence aircraft for the US Navy.

Last year, Boeing was forced by integration issues to delay the AEW&C "by roughly a couple of years", says programme manager Maureen Dougherty. "We thought the hardware and software was maturing faster than it was." Radar development was slower, and datalink integration more complex, than expected.

"We took a step back to get more integration, and replanned the programme with input from customers," says Dougherty. "There has been incredible progress in the last six months. The radar has come a long way." The Northrop Grumman MESA radar demonstrated a significant improvement in performance in May, she says, when a 737 AEW&C took part in Canada's Trident Fury exercise.

The replan calls for the first two of Australia's Wedgetail AEW&Cs to be delivered in the first quarter of 2009, and the remaining four by the end of 2009. Aircraft 2 is being used for mission system testing, and about to start trails of the BAE Systems/Elta electronic support measures. Aircraft 1 is in modification, instrumentation being removed ready for mission-system testing through to the end of 2008. Modification of Wedgetails 3-6 is under way at RAAF Amberley in Australia, with aircraft 3 to be brought back to the USA in January for use in flight testing.

The first Peace Eagle aircraft for Turkey will fly in Seattle this quarter, and modification of the remaining three has begun at Tusas Aerospace Industries in Anakara. South Korea's E-X contract for four 737 AEW&Cs is awaiting final signature. The first, Boeing-converted aircraft will be delivered in 2001 and the rest, modified by Korea Aerospace Industries, in 2012.

With Italy and the United Arab Emirates potential customers, "we are trying to get closer to an AEW&C platform with minimum tailoring," says Dougherty. "We have a close collaboration with the P-8, and some elements are moving into the Korean aircraft."

Boeing, meanwhile, expects the USN to begin risk-reduction work on a replacement for its EP-3 SIGINT aircraft by early 2009, looking for initial operational capability in 2017. The company's proposed EP-X is based on the P-8A airframe and open system architecture.

Replacing the EP-3 was originally part of the MMA requirement, but was pulled out and put under the US Army-led Aerial Common Sensor programme. ACS was cancelled in February 2006, leaving the navy to go it alone with EP-X.

Structural changes to theP-8 for EP-X would be minimal, says business development director Tim Norgart, including mounting a canoe fairing under the fuselage where the weapons pylons are and skinning over the bomb bay to create an additional antenna farm. The P-8's radar and EO/IR sensor would be retained as would be its mission-system backbone and operator interface, expanded to 12-14 consoles. "The open architecture doesn't care if it's five consoles or 25," he says.

Source: Flight International